Month: November 2015

Feedback from the Second Presentation

Feedback from the Second Presentation

Following my presentation, I was given positive and encouraging feedback – David and Brian both said I was on the right track and were pleased that I expanded to scope of my project slightly to look into how films built up suspense and tension, and not just games. David then asked me what I found scariest. It was a tough question, but I settled on the feeling of helplessness. When things start slipping, you can see it collapsing around you and there is nothing you can do to stop it. David was happy that I was able to answer the question.


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Preparing for the second presentation

Preparing for the second presentation

With the submission date for the second presentation for Creative Research approaching, I’ve started putting together the work I’ve been doing into a presentation to submit. After the introduction slide, these are my following slides:

Slide 2

Slide 2 – I’ll be going over how I will be approaching this project – I’ll explain that I’ll start off with secondary research first, reading up on level design theories and researching elements games and films use to create a horror atmosphere. I’ll then explain that once I have a basic understanding of that, I’ll begin with my primary research by preparing surveys and gathering “real-world” information on certain techniques to see what people find most effective. I’ll then describe how, as I’ll be focusing on the theory behind level design to build a level rather than the creation of assets, I’ll be making my level using Fallout: New Vegas’ assets, with all credit going to Bethesda Softworks and Obsidian Entertainment.

Slide 3

Slide 3 – After that, I’ll explain what I have done so far. I have already done a lot of secondary research and tests to do with level building and level design techniques, such as using focal points and using light to guide the player.

Slide 4

Slide 4 – I’ll then explore my findings to do with cliche’s, such as that they do still work, but you shouldn’t rely on them solely. Use them as a flavour and they’ll be very effective.

Slide 5

Slide 5 – Continuing with showing what I’ve done so far, I’ll explain that I’ve been analysing existing games, specifically SOMA, and taking note of how it constantly subverts player expectations consistently.

Slide 6

Slide 6 – I’ll then go into the research I’ve done on pacing, emphasizing how it can make or break a level.

Slide 7 Slide 8 Slide 9

Slides 7, 8 & 9 – I’ll show the in-engine work I’ve done so far, such as experimenting with lighting, building simple scenes in different environments and using sound cues.

Slide 10

Finally, in slide 10, I’ll wrap up the presentation showing what I aim to do next – Begin my primary research with the creation of surveys, begin paper prototyping some initial level designs and then finally turn them into playable levels.

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Experimenting with sounds

Experimenting with sounds

Just a quick update – I’ve been experimenting with using sound cues in levels to startle the player and keep them on edge and adding to what they may anticipate. I’ve been prototyping some scenes, and placing down a trigger such as this:









What happens here, is that when the player walks through that red box (Which isn’t visible in-game), it plays a sound file of a creature screeching. I set up an example level with 3 of these sound triggers throughout, set up some screen capture software, and let someone walk through the level to record their reaction. The video is available here:

As can be seen in the video, the first time the sound plays, the player is terrified – They start looking around in a panicked state, and then start picking up their pace. The second time triggers a similar response, however by the third time the reaction is diminished as they realise no physical events are occurring, just sound cues. In my levels, I’ll need to be careful not to overdo sound triggers, to prevent them losing their effect.

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My thoughts on: SOMA

My thoughts on: SOMA

Just chiming in with some quick thoughts on a game I have recently been analysing. A recently released horror game by Frictional Games, SOMAis a perfect example of a well paced and suspense-driven game. I haven’t been playing the game personally as I do not own it, however I have been watching people play it and taken notes as they go.

SOMA describes itself as a psychological horror. Predominantly set in an underwater facility in a disaster-struck Earth, the player is set loose within the facility not knowing what is going on, where they are, how they got there, or indeed when they are.

Something I feel the developers used fantastically was subverting expectations and building anticipation. The game is clearly marketed as a horror game; It’s advertising showed it as such, as does the game’s information on digital download stores and on the game’s retail box. It doesn’t hide the fact at all, however as soon as the player loads into the game, they are greeted by a typical suburban apartment set in the present day. It’s immediately jarring and completely unexpected. The player learns about their character as they read their computer and go through emails and discover that the protagonist suffered a brain injury in an accident, and must attend a doctor’s appointment. Everything is fine and normal here, and the game makes the player do mundane things such as pack their bag, take their medication, take a shower, make a phone call, and then finally leave.

The effect this has on the player is it shatters all their expectations. Much like in Alien, everything is fine here – The calm before the storm. And yet something feels off. As the player knows this is a horror game, something has to go wrong, right? Everything feels off, and as such, it feels creepy. Unsettling.

Eventually, the player gets to the doctor appointment where they perform a brain scan. The screen flashes, and the player suddenly finds themselves waking up in this ruined facility with no explanation – The point of no return. A hostile facility filled with enemies, the player is left to their own devices to discover what’s happened. The player is kept on a constant edge as after that happens, coming out of the blue, they don’t know what else can happen.

This is a fantastic use of pacing, and I must incorporate it into my research.

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Level Design Theory – Focal Points and Lighting

Following on from the previous blog post, I looked into using focal points as well as sound to drive pacing and anticipation.

Again from World of Level Design, they discuss that using focal points is very effective when it comes to building tension. Directing the player’s focus by using lights can be especially effective. Keeping the player’s focus on a specific object using lighting and such has two benefits:

You can have the player be drawn to a location, and have them approach somewhere as they keep their sights on it.

And, if the player is focused on one thing, you can begin introducing elements into their peripheral vision. A human’s peripheral vision isn’t good at making out specific objects however it is very good at noticing movement. Having something like a door open in their peripheral vision would be very effective at startling the player, heightening their tension.

As an example of using lighting to guide the player, I created a scene with a door at the end of the hallway, with a path then leading to the right.

Focal Points

As you can see, the scene is identical other than the light. In the screenshot to the left, the scene comes across as bland, and the player may go either way. In the scene to the right, the player should in theory go through the illuminated door, and as they approach said door, their anticipation of what may be behind it may lead to them expecting something bad is behind there, and begin to unsettle them.

I presented the above screenshots to 8 people, and asked: “In the screenshot to the left, which way would you go? And again, in the screenshot to the right, which way would you go?”

All 8 said that they’d go right in the screenshot to the left. However, in the screenshot to the right (The illuminated one), 6 said they’d go straight through the door. One said they’d still go right because they’d assume the door wasn’t working, however if it worked they’d go through it, whereas another commented that they’d be able to tell the door would be the way to advance the story, however they’d go right first as they tend to explore a level as much as they can before moving on.

This demonstrates how lighting can direct a player’s focus and lead them through a level – It is a very powerful tool available to the level designer.

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